"My core group of friends from college make a lot more money then I do. They all dove right into their careers right after college whereas I have been more of a floater trying to figure out what I really love. They do a lot of things I cannot afford which is hard on my ego so I overspend just to keep up. How can I stop feeling so inferior and jealous?"
- Falling Behind Financially, 27, New Jersey
Dear Falling Behind Financially,
Adjusting to friends with money is a tough transition as most of us were financial equals in college who split tabs and cut coupons for pizza deliveries. Differing levels of income between friends can create differences that weren't there before. I understand that it's discouraging to feel like you are the one at the table who reads the menu from right to left while your friends enjoy reading it from left to right; ordering what is appealing as opposed to what is the least expensive.
But how do you make peace inside with income inequality? First, consider the question, if your friends were not making more money than you, would you be content with where you are? If the answer is no, this issue is not really about money - it may boil down to the fact that you are judging your "floater" path and are perhaps it's time to plant some roots in terms of your career. If the answer is yes, then you are playing a comparison game you will never win.
Comparison to anyone or anything else is a lose-lose game. There is always going to be someone richer, smarter, better looking, funnier, etc. The more you can focus on your own gifts and gratitude for the things you have in your life, the more successful you will be at not feeling inferior. If you keep your attention on what makes you feel separate, the more separate you will feel.
Money will only affect your friendship if you aren't honest about what you can afford and your friends are insensitive to your boundaries. If they are always making pricey plans, say something like, "Hey that sounds like a ton of fun but I am watching my spending, how about xyz instead?" Suggest an alternative or be the one that makes the plans in the first place.
In terms of jealousy, keep in mind that you never really know if money is truly making anyone happy. Perhaps your friends have to work longer hours or tolerate more stress than you. They may even be racking up more debt whereas you are budgeting and watching your spending. It's a well known fact that the more you make, the more you spend.
A way to transform jealous into something more useful is to use it as a fuel for learning. If you really do want what they have in terms of money, ask them to teach you more about it. Talk to them about your career and financial plans and goals. Ask them how they handle the green stuff - they may have some insight into investing, budgeting, or retirement plans.
The point is that it's the friendship that matters, not the number of zeros in your bank account. And if money continues to affect what type of activities you are able to do with your friends, perhaps you need to make some new ones - preferably ones who are in your tax bracket.
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